I just returned back from a week long trip to St John and thought I would give some input into getting around on St John via scooter or motorcycle. I rented a motorcycle (street legal dirt bike) and I loved it, but it will not / should not be for everyone. First, the realities.
St John is a beautiful island, and most opt for a car rental for good reasons. Others have mentioned the steepness of the hills and they are not exagerating. The uphill and downhill grades can be extremely steep, and it is not uncommon for there to be 90 degree switch back turns at the top of them. The roads are narrow, but for the most part well maintained (expect the more remote portions of the island). Complicating this is driving on the left, watching out for donkeys (yes, I said donkeys) in the middle of the road), and periodic downpours making the surface slick. Considering a scooter or motorcycle rental here is not nearly as straight forward as on other tropical destinations with flatter topography.
If you're still reading up to this point, then I'll assume that you aren't disuaded by the above and that you have a couple years of riding experience (as you'll certainly need it). And if you're up for the challenge, the rewards IMO are well worth it. There are a number of great benefits to traveling like this: your transportation rental cost is much cheaper than a car, parking is greatly simplified, and you'll save $$ on gas (it's a lot more expensive on the islands). The views while riding are much more expansive and there are certainly great views to enjoy while driving around.
Bear in mind your motorcycle rental options will be in the 250cc range, so if you're used to bigger bikes this will take some getting used to. I would (IMO) that if you are the only rider then having a year of ride time is sufficient on these types of roads. If you plan on carrying a passenger you'll most likely need a couple more years ride time experience with someone on the back. If you need to carry a decent amount of gear then another couple years on top of that would be helpful. If that sounds a bit extreme, remember everything I mentioned in the first paragraph and that you are now on a 250cc motorcycle without a lot of horsepower. I personally would not rent a scooter vs a motorcycle, but that again is my opinion.
If you do choose to rent a bike, one last piece of advice. There was only one place on St John that rented scooters / motorcycles, and they were terribly overpriced and communications poor. Instead I rented on St Thomas and took it to St Johns and it worked out much better. The price was signficantly lower (even with rental cost plus ferry fees), the motorcycles recent models / well maintained, the communications timely and very helpful, and they pick up / drop off at the airport. I worked with "Biz Scooter Rentals" and Cesar Lupatelli and it was an excellent experience - I recommend them to anyone.
Best of luck and enjoy your trip!
To get to St. John, most travelers arrive on the island of St. Thomas USVI. The airport is Cyril King. The airport is located less then 10 minutes from the downtown area of Charlotte Amalie. When you arrive at Cyril King enjoy the caribbean hospitality with a complimentary rum punch between the arrival gate and the luggage claim. This is a good time to set your internal clock to ISLAND TIME! You will soon be reminded of that while waiting for your luggage. After collecting your luggage, find the taxi dispatcher. They are not hard to find, they are usually the busiest person near the exits. You must make a choice of ferries at this time. The dispatcher will be able to help you with your choice. He knows the ferry departure times and has a handle on traffic to the ferry terminals. The total cost to get to St John is basically the same from each passenger ferry terminal. What you save on the Red Hook ferry will be taken in taxi fare and vice versa for saved taxi fare to Charlotte. Below are links to hep you estimate your taxi costs:
VI now STT taxi rates
VI now STJ taxi rates
stjohn.com STJ taxi rates
Your ferry choices are:
Charlotte Amalie - Pros: less than 10 minutes from the airport in normal traffic. Across the street from some of the best duty free shopping in the caribbean. Gets you on the water sooner and a longer water ride than from Red Hook.
Cons: Fewer departures to St. John than Redhook. No indoor ferry terminal. Can be crowded when cruise ships first arrive in port.
Red Hook Passenger - Pros: MANY more departures than Charlotte, earlier and later departures (some as late as midnight, check the website I link to verify current schedules). Brand new ferry terminal keeps you indoors out of the sun. Another free rum punch.
Cons: Much longer taxi ride (about 30 to 45 minutes).
Red Hook Car Barge - If you rent a jeep on St Thomas you can transport it to StJ on the car barge (IF your rental agreemement allows).
Pros: Cheaper if you are transporting passengers. You pay per car and people and luggage rides free.
Cons: More limited schedule, sometimes long lines, Commercial customers offered preference at times.
Remember that on the passenger ferries you have to pay for each piece of luggage. You are allowed a "carry-on" that you should not be charged for. Ferry employees interpret the luggage fees and carry-on rules differently depending on the situation.
Below are two online ferry schedules. I do not know of an "official" site. Fares and schedules change often. Check multiple sites and call to verify if schedule is tight. Especially true for the car barge schedules.
BVI.com ferry shcedule
USVINET Ferry Schedule
stjohn.ccom Ferry Schedule
Cars and jeeps are available for rental on StJ. Many ask if a 4WD is required. While a 2WDcar will get you around most of the island without trouble, a 4WD is nice after one of the regular rain showers that you can expect. The roads to some villas may be gravel and dirt. The roads are winding, hilly and can get quite slippery after a rain. Switchbacks on 30degree grades are common. Many times I have watched cars spin their wheels trying to negotiate these inclined hairpin turns.
Many car rental companies are available. We have always used L&L jeep rental.
Levi and Kurt have always provided us with great service, a competitive price, great vehicles and are friendly and easy to work with. They also offer covered caravan tours of the island.
If you are renting during high season, you might ask if your rental company offers in town parking. I understand that parking in Cruz Bay during high season can be an issue. We like StJ in the off season so we have never had to deal with this.
The US Virgin Islands adhere to the British rule of driving on the LEFT. Having a car to explore the island is preferred but not essential. During high season (winter) parking in Cruz Bay is hard to find. StJ has the lowest average speed limit in all the US because of the winding and hilly roads. Posted speed limits rarely exceed 25 mph. Relax, Don't be in a hurry.
We took the Inter-Island Boat Services ferry from West End, Tortola to Cruz Bay, St. John. It cost $26/person one way. There was also a $2/piece of luggage charge. The trip took about 20 minutes.
Once we arrived on St. John, we rented a car so that we could explore and do everything on our own.
Highly, highly recomend rental a Zodiac in St. John's along with snorking gear. Back in 2000, we rented one for $100 a day. We brought enough food, and beverages for the whole day. We traveled from beach to beach, one of the best times of my life !!!
Noah's Little Arks is located on the beach at Wharfside Village and is open every day of the week from 8 am to 5 pm.
Rental cars are a dime a dozen on the island and most will come pick you up wherever you're staying on the island and drop you off at the ferry docks at no charge. You will need a 4x4 to manage the mountainous terrain and you will find Suzukis are the most available option, in fact you'll wish you had invented Suzuki when you see how many there are on the islands. I recommend walking around Cruz Bay and getting quotes before renting, because often you can get a $10 price differential by just walking to the next agency. Rentals are expensive, because transportation is so limited running from $50-$75/day. If you are on a budget it may be wise to rent for just a day as you can see most of the island in that amount of time.
It is easy although not cheap to get around St. John via open air taxis. Rates are pretty high considering the distance is never really more than 10 miles or so. This is the only public transport available and will require you to be patient as drivers generally fill up the taxi before leaving. You can catch these taxis anywhere especially in downtown Cruz Bay near the ferry docks. I recommend Charles and his Charles' Angels taxi in particular for fair rates and friendly service.
After living on St.John I can tell you without a doubt that riding a scooter on this island is taking your life into your hands.
The roads on the island are winding and very steep and narrow in places. Beisdes that, some of the oversized taxis are not shy about taking their half of the road in the middle. Now consider all this with the fact that alot of people are liquored up and possibly attempting to drive on the left side of the road for the first time in their lives. Unless you have a death wish, you DO NOT want to be on a scooter on this island!
I highly recommend that you rent a little dinghy from Noah's Little Arks and set out on your own Caribbean beach adventure in beautiful St. John. I have never in my life seen such turquoise blue clear water and supple pure white sand. We cruised around all day visiting secluded beach after secluded beach. Bring along a picnic and enjoy a breathtakingly romantic day with someone you love.
I can't remember the price of the rental to save my life but I can say with certainty that it was well under $100 in 2002.
You should rent a jeep but unfortunately when we went they didn't have anything available so you should probabbly make a reservation. We rented scooters a little bit dangerous but it was great sight seeing and it was definately worth it we got to see almost the whole island and we made it to skinny legs which it's a very famous bar and grill, they have the best fish sandwhich.
ST. John does not have an airport or anything progressive like that, so, it's back to the days of sail....well, not really, there's a ferry that runs between Redhook, St. Thomas and Cruz Bay, St. John every hour up to 11pm. For a mere $3 USD, you can get a one-way ticket across the strait...
Once on St. Thomas just tell the taxi driver to take you to the St. John ferry in Redhook. I think one also leaves from Charlotte-Amalie for a few more dollars...
VITRANS is a joke! One bus line from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay then it turns south. Catch it at the marked off space in front of Ferry Pier. They have two buses so should run hourly from 7:20am to after 6 pm but if one is out then expect every other hour. Ask people waiting in front of food shack on right when to expect the bus. C'est la vie.
There is a ferry leaving St. Thomas in Red Hook and Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay in St. John.
$6 round trip per person or $35 round trip if you taking the car.
I do recommend taking the car to go to St. John.
There are several Car & Jeep rental places in St.John. I will post a 3 of them.
1) Book a Jeep P.O . Box 4931 St. John, U.S. V.I. 00831 Tel. 340- 776-1120 Fax 340-693-9436.
2) St. John Car Rental Box 566, Cruz Bay,
St. John, V100830 Phone /Fax 340- 776-6103.
3) Cool Breeze Jeep/Car Rentals.
Cruz Bay St. John, V.I. P.O.Box 627-St. John.
U.S.V.I. 00831 Tel 340=776/6588, Fax 340/ 693-8078.
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